Untitled (Black and Cream Butterfly Negative Middle #633) sees Grotjahn employ two distinct vanishing points for his radiating linear abstraction, with a void in the centre creating a magnet-like focal point between opposing poles. Meticulously mapping out his composition in pencil before blocking in the triangular components, Grotjahn works under an exacting system which sees him move from left to right across the canvas, filling in the lines. There is no indecision here, no hesitancy. However, this uniformity of approach does not preclude the visibility of the artist’s hand. Flecks of coloured pencil transgress the bounds of the ‘butterfly’ shape, and upon close inspection the individual strokes of the pencil become readily apparent. The texture of the work is palpable, and indeed proves to be just as important as the dizzying visual effect created by the artist’s masterful manipulation of space and optics. The alternating black and cream bands pull the viewer into the recessional depth of its composition, whilst the instinctive association of the work with industrial production and perfection is dispelled by the manifest visibility of the artist’s hand.
The simple formal tenets that have provided the basis for much of Grotjahn’s work – notions of iteration and repetition, and their associated illusionistic qualities – have given rise to an extraordinary breadth of work. The artist has described his unique aesthetic as “a certain graphic form that I could stick with and see how far within that system I could push it", and there can be little doubt that this ostensibly simple graphic framework has laid the foundation for a systematic and rigorous visual investigation (Mark Grotjahn cited in: Exh. Cat., Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art, 54th Carnegie International 2004-05, 2004, p. 154). Hypnotic and immersive in its optical complexity, the present work is a superb example of Grotjahn’s Butterfly series, and epitomises what Heidi Jacobson has described as the artist’s capacity to “seduce the viewer and then… throw them into a tailspin” (Heidi Jacobson cited in: Exh. Cat., Aspen Museum of Art, Mark Grotjahn, 2012, p. 56).
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